The Oshkosh North football team accomplished something this fall that, other than the Spartans boys basketball team, had not been done at North high school in the past nine years in winning a conference championship.
While that is an amazing feat by itself, the Spartans have even bigger goals ahead, and head coach Chris Kujawa said it’s time for his team to turn the page.
“What they have accomplished is incredible, outstanding and they should be commended for it, but what they have to understand is that the pats on the back need to end and its time to focus on the next step,” Kujawa said.
That next step is a date with Slinger tonight in the a WIAA Division 2 Level 1 playoff game on J.J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium. North, the top seed in its grouping, knows what it’s like to enter the playoffs as the No. 8 seed with nothing to lose — doing it a year ago and nearly pulling off the upset against top-seeded Green Bay Southwest.
The players remember the loss vividly, and now that they are on the other end of that spectrum, they know not to take Slinger lightly.
“We were hungry and looking forward to upsetting that team last year,” said Alex Hintze, the Spartans’ leading rusher. “So we kind of have that knowledge of what they are bringing to the table so we have to bring it right back to them and stay hungry.”
The Spartans will be led by their talented senior quarterback Nate Neveau as well as the junior tailback Hintze. Neveau passed for 1,005 yards with 11 touchdowns and rushed for 762 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Hintze racked up 881 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
North may have piled up more than 2,100 yards on the ground these first nine games, but Neveau believes the way Slinger plays may force him to air it out, and he’s perfectly fine throwing to his big outside targets in Cameron Parish and Cooper Radtke.
“They run a 4-4 defense so they are going to crowd the box, so hopefully if we have to we can beat them through the air,” Neveau said. “We have confidence in our receivers and I trust them to make a play on the ball and I think they trust me to put it in the right spot.”
Slinger (5-4) comes out of the Wisconsin Little Ten conference, finishing in fourth place in the league after defeating West Bend West 27-0 in the regular season finale to become playoff eligible.
North will be trying to limit a rushing attack that averages just under 200 yards-per-game, led by senior running back Thomas Lofy’s team-high 823 yards and Jacob Mason’s 339 yards. The Owls’ main quarterback, Jacob Bjorklund, has rushed for 208 yards and thrown for 445 yards, though don’t be surprised if Taylor Loiacono takes some snaps at quarterback as well for Slinger.
The Spartans enter the game surrendering only 69 yards rushing per game, and slightly over 10 points-per-game, both leading the Valley Football Association South Division.
The bottom line is this game will be won, or lost, in the trenches.
“This is going to be an MMA, Octagon fight,” Kujawa said. “They are going to ground and pound. They are the 8-seed with nothing to lose and we are going to get their best game and their kids will be spirited and hungry, and we better get hungry real quick or we will get bitten.”
Neveau said if his team does go down at some point during the playoffs, it won’t be because his team was not ready to play.
“We have to bring our best every game because we are going to get the best from everyone else,” Neveau said, “it’s a one-and-done situation and anything can happen in any game so you just have play every play like its your last. There have been upsets before and we have to make sure it doesn’t happen to us.”